Can you really pack everything in the world into a game? Maybe not, but you can try, and David OReilly has made the attempt with Everything, a game that’s about, well, everything. Now, it’s about everything-plus-one, since the game is on (and includes!) the Nintendo Switch.
If that description of the game is confusing, it’s because you’re not reading it literally enough. Everything is, quite literally, a game about everything, about the nature of existence and the ties between living things. It raises questions about what “everything” is, from the smallest protons and electrons to the largest clusters of galaxies, and provides some answers courtesy of late philosopher Alan Watts.
Audio snippets from Watts’ lectures form the bulk of the game’s content, or, at least, the part that I found most interesting. Players begin the game dropped onto a random planet, inhabiting the form of a random object or animal. Players can hop from one form to the next by scaling slightly up or down, jumping from a wolf to a rabbit to a shrub to a mushroom to a pebble to a floating piece of pollen to a bacteria to a floating speck of carbon, all the way down to subatomic particles. Going the other way, players can leap upwards, from animals to trees to boulders to clouds to land masses to planets to stars to galaxies. Each “thing” can move around and seek out other things, and as you play, you’ll gain more power to replicate yourself, bond with other objects, and overhear the passing thoughts of suns, used chewing gum, and grains of sand.
These thoughts are simple, single lines of dialogue, usually either posing a philosophical question or a comfortingly ordinary snippet of conversation. Watt’s lectures, which occasionally pop up in place of thoughts, provide more context as you leap from creature to creature. There’s only the barest minimum of a plot or a goal to Everything, with a brief lesson on clearing your mind of everyday clutter and embracing oneness with the universe before you’re set free in order to collect everything. That’s the only real gameplay goal in Everything: try and take the form of each of the hundreds of objects scattered around in the game.
While I did enjoy the philosophy and lessons presented by Everything, this actual gameplay left a lot to be desired. For one, while you can be everything, there’s not a lot you can actually do. In order to fit so many objects into the game, all of them are extremely limited in function, and there’s nothing you can do as a snake that you can’t do as a sunflower seed. You just glide around, fighting the occasionally-clunky controls, and warp into something else when you get bored. That’s all right for a cloud or a speck of dirt, which I would expect to do nothing more but drift, but the lack of animations and diversity is hugely noticeable with animals. Most just slide around the terrain like sculptures pushed across a frozen pond, but four-legged creatures have an even more ridiculous low-budget solution: they T-pose and cartwheel, often coming to rest upside down, limbs sticking straight up into the air. It’s hard to take a solemn lecture on the nature of existence seriously while witnessing an elephant chunkily pinwheeling its way across the horizon. This wasn’t what Mufasa meant by the circle of life.
The game later grants a few more powers to the player, such as the ability to transform into anything from anywhere, the ability to shrink or enlarge objects you’re possessing, and the cursed power to duplicate near-infinite amounts of animals (or at least as many as your system can handle before the game detects the frame rate is getting too low and stops you). Playing on my Switch and using the console, mostly, in handheld mode, I ran into this limit fairly quickly just from spamming my spawn-object ability. It’s a break from scaling up and down, searching out anything you might have missed, but it’s entirely self-made fun of the temporary “let’s see how far I can push this before the system burns” kind.
You can almost see my Switch melting at the power of the Giant Eagle Apocalypse.
For a game called Everything and sold on the premise of becoming everything, I wish there had been more care put into the actions of, well, becoming everything. I would have liked to slither as a snake, stick to walls as chewed gum, flap my wings as an eagle, incinerate things to a crisp as a star. To quote Alan Watts from The Interplay of Difference clip, “Every kind of variety of differentiation is the way through which unity is discovered… Because that’s the way by which something happens. If it makes a difference, then it’s there. If it doesn’t make a difference, it doesn’t matter.” If it makes no difference what I’m playing as in Everything then, really, does collecting new forms even matter?
If anything, Everything is at its best not as a game, but as a hands-on backdrop while listening to Watt’s philosophy. It can be a peaceful, zen experience, floating through space, becoming one with everything, trying to collect hundreds of different objects, and learning to dismiss your own too-busy and too-negative thoughts. Without the backdrop of the audio logs, though, there’s little there to hold one’s attention in the actual gameplay. When you’re one with everything, all that’s left is nothing.
Everything is a philosophy lecture turned into a game, and if you’re looking for some new insight on life and a sandbox to play in while you listen, it’ll provide. While the game offers up hundreds of choices of objects to become, it comes at the sacrifice of everything feeling the same.
Double Fine Productions
E - Everyone
|Everything is available on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC. Primary version played was for Nintendo Switch. Product was provided by Double Fine Productions for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.
Emma’s early gaming was mostly done in secret, as the only gamer in a family of normal people. She still retains skills from this dark period in her life, such as the ability to teleport instantly across the house away from the computer, and holds a gold medal in the Olympic sport of “Hide the Gameboy.” Sorry, Mom, now you know.